If their plans can become reality, Uber may one day be shuttling commuters and other patrons from one point to another aboard flying taxis.
In a recent interview with CBS News‘ “CBS This Morning”, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi revealed that ‘Uber Air’ is in the conception phase, but the company is looking to make it a reality for people living in highly congested urban centers in the United States.
“We think cities are going to go vertical in terms of transportation and we want to make that a reality,” Khosrowshahi told CBS News’ Bianna Golodryga.
Uber made the big reveal at the May 8 ‘Uber Elevate Summit’ in Los Angeles, California. Concept pictures and models of the taxis were displayed as the company laid out its vision for a fleet of autonomous flying taxis.
Khosrowshahi detailed a future in which city residents or tourists will request Uber Air services and then proceed to a skyport area atop a city’s forest of buildings. The company says it will begin with human pilots and eventually progress to fully autonomous vehicles.
Uber’s chief product officer, Jeff Holden, says that the vehicle will resemble a helicopter in many ways thanks to the presence of rotor blades, but it will also have small electrically-powered propellers that will move it horizontally after achieving appropriate vertical lift.
The key to the program is making it cost effective, something Uber has been struggling with on its terrestrial bound vehicles. Ideally, Uber Air vehicles would be shuttling more than one passenger on a single ride, which would make its operation much more cost effective.
“We want to create the network around those vehicles so that regular people can take these taxis in the air for longer distances when they want to avoid traffic at affordable prices,” Khosrowshahi said.
“One of the key tenets of this technology is for us to have four riders in each vehicle. So, essentially, the cost per ride goes down,” he said. “The combination of mass market and sharing, which is really what Uber is all about, can bring this to the masses, can make it affordable for normal people.”
Another key to the project is making it “community friendly”, which is why the company is focused on a quiet and emission-less craft.
The company is also working to rehabilitate its image. A bombshell blogpost last year detailing a corporate culture of sexual harassment was followed by numerous lawsuits and an internal investigation that led to Kalanick’s resignation.
“If it’s not changed right now, then I failed. I will tell you that the company took upon itself to change. The change didn’t start with me,” Khosrowshahi said. “What happened in the past was deeply unpleasant and wrong but the company from a bottoms up standpoint started changing and I think it continues apace.”
He said it’s “game over” if the company can’t provide a workplace where female employees feel safe. “We want everyone at Uber to feel safe….And if we fail at that, we will fail at a company. But we don’t intend to.”
Khosrowshahi said he’s concentrating not just on correcting the company’s past missteps but on making the necessary strides to ensure the company’s future growth, including the launch of Uber Air.
“You’ve got to set aggressive goals in order to push teams and people to make those goals,” he said.
Uber plans to have Uber Air flight demonstrations as early as 2020. The company has also partnered with NASA to develop technology to control air traffic and prevent crashes. The first two Uber Air cities will be Dallas and Los Angeles.